Monday, August 30, 2010

In the City on a Long Weekend

This was a long weekend and although I have a number of things on my mind, I wanted to catch a short break and regretted not planning to get away. There are of course plenty of great places to go but the problem is that it require planning because it means flying somewhere usually. Tourism for Philippine has that issue because many, actually most, places require a flight from Manila.

BUT surprisingly, I had a great break. Its amazing what you can do if you put your mind to it.

Firtly, the day weather was great. It did not rain until the evening and very lightly. Most morning were sunny and cool. The afternoon was breezy and cloudy so it was not hot or too humid. Usually its rains like cats and dogs at least one part of the day this time of the year. Last year, I remember it rained almost every morning. But this weekend, the weather was really just right for some R&R. I hope the weather holds up for the rest of the rainy season.

In the morning, I actually managed to find some green around. In particular I headed out to the Manila Bay and Esplanade area. The weather was so good and the salt air was incredible refreshing that I almost lost track of time and almost got a ticket. You can only street park in the area until 8am. The only problem is the area is pretty bad for breakfast. All you have is the fast food joints and chain-coffee places. You can head over to Binondo later but I still havent't figured out how to park in there.

I also headed out to explore lesser part of the city known as municipalities of Las Pinas and Paranaque. These are basically townships that are part of the greater Metro Manila. Without traffic, it was actually very pleasant to drive around. Think of it like boroughs of Queens or Brooklyn in New York.

If you ever wonder where the call-center personnel, clerks, accountants, teachers, contractors live, your everyday unimprovished pinoy in other words, these townships give a good idea. These townships have a long history that began with small villages called barangays. The urban design were based on a time when there were no cars and no one dreamed of a two-car garage suburban homes. Malaysians and Singaporean don't typically understand that the planned two-story detached house suburban towns we grew up with are the contruct of late 20th century after the mass market car was invented. These planned development also do exist here and are typically gated communities called villages.

Think of barangays like new villages in Serdang, Kepong in Malaysia or colonial shop houses in Singapore or cobblestone lined streets historical part of European old cities and old cities of US like Boston or Georgetown. They were originally not designed for cars although typically the roads are paved but there are no pedestrians walkways. However there are the less older gated-villages that are very well plan and the houses are actually bungalows. The older part though, the plot of land can be small and the building built up to the street, most without parking bays. The plot of land are not uniform and the roads meandering again, without cars in mind. Each house and buildings is unique unlike the planned towns we are used to. Most of them are two and three storey concrete buildings with individual characters. Of course some of the buildings that are closer to the wide-enough-for-two-car roads have commercial activities like eateries, convenience stores, saloon/barber etc. At the entrance to these barangays are typically tricycles that can take you deep into the townships as these townships can be very big. They have schools, clinics, police station, community halls, basketball courts, churches, etc. There are even factories, offices, warehouses.

What you will notice is that the streets are clean and the houses mostly neat and well-maintained, some very colorful. I keep wondering where are the garbage cans? Each of them are unique in designed unlike what we are used to in uniform planned houses. Occasionally you will notice some very big buildings or houses of four five stories. They are either apartment buildings or house of someone who has made it pretty big with a big family and choses to continue to stay in the area rather than move to planned townships which are further away or older established houses that are very expensive that can't house a big family.

On a holliday weekend like these when cars and trucks don't run the streets, you will find children playing in the streets, people hanging out at major corners, hawkers with pushcarts. Walking to churches to markets, etc. Its actually very lively and you get a very small town close-knit feeling that neighbours know each other and socialize constantly. It reminded me of going to my grandmother in a new village in Gombak which I used to visit every weekend when I was a very young.

One of the things you will notice is that there are definite improvement going on on these towns. Many buildings have new coat of paint, new attachments and shingles, rebuilt bigger and better with parking bays. New cars/vans/trucks. New appliances. More new small business. More new advertising like billboards and signs. You can feel lives improving, neighbourhood getting organised, people enjoying their lives.

Not all townships are safe, clean and well-organised. Some like Tondo can be worst than the famous favellas of Brazilian cities. Even those that are safe, you may have to go through areas that may not be that safe. I would not recommend staying out late and taking buses and jeepney back if you stay at these places.. But its definitely an experience to visit and live in these areas. They are relatively cheap to stay in. Monthly rent can be halve or less of what you would pay at apartments in the newer organised planned condominium townships that are coming up. There typically are no room for a car. Public transport is of course another matter all together.

Way into the future, when they fix public transport in this city, these townships will actually be great places to experience and live. It feels cosy and small-townish. In coastal towns like Cavite City with sea breeze and great weather they have here like this year, it feels like staying in one of those expensive coastal town villas in the Greece or Italy.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Manila Hostage event

I have not posted a number of weeks because I was preoccupied with other things. I really did not want to write about something so negative but admist the debate, I felt I have to bring my perspective on it.

Basically what happened was that things got out of control and it was not handled well. The details of the event is actually almost a soap opera, a drama. You really have to wonder why did it have to be so?

At the core of the issue is how could the career of a policeman and his pension money result in death of so many innocent lives? In the end, can't individual values protect each other from such extremes? Isn't such behaviour just a form of modern cannabalism?

The police officer was a college graduate and decorated officer, in 1986 voted one of top ten outstanding policeman by Jaycee International. BUT he did wrong and was dismissed and pension taken away. How he could not accept what happened to him, given that he is a career policeman, in essentially a corrupt system in this country for so long, is a testament that no matter who we are or how strong we are, all of us depend on society and systems for support as well as checks and balance. Most of us can easily get trap with entitlement and corrupt ourselves to losing perpective of the larger picture.

AND I am not talking about just the police officer.

What happened here is not unique. You constantly hear of extreme behaviour by individuals who have been unjustly done by China's corrupt and fast change of its economy and society. Oklahoma bombing, Colombine High School. What happened in Thailand recently over politics is not that different. Its just that in this case, guns was available to a particular individual and systems failure by decades of poor governance.

Lets take the raging debate in Hong Kong, China and other jurisdiction. ALL the people who make heavy criticism of what happened should ask themselves how much do they know about the Philippines other than their maids and call operators they deal with on occasion. How much do they know of the country, people, history, systems, social behaviour, education?

What has happened is something that most Pinoys regret and they themselves are torn about it. They debate here is just as fierce as anywhere. It does not help the situation that outsiders who knows little about them are bringing 21st century instant response impatience into the issues which has deep implications.

Do Hong Kongers/Chinese have a right to criticize? Yes. Do they have a right to debate it? Yes. Do the Philippines owe an explanation and duty to correct their problems? Yes. BUT do even Hong Kongers/Chinese who are not family members have a right to be impatient about it? No.

Many of the problems of the Philippines began with the failure of leadership starting from Marcos days that continued to this day. The elites of this country failed to lead a people not suited to suffer what they have had to suffer. In some way its remarkable this country has not turned communist and in fact a vibrant growing democracy that is slowly and increasing gaining its footing.

As I said, the kinds of things that happen here also happen in other places if you know where to look and give it a fair context. I would turn the problem to Hong Kongers and Chinese - is the senselessnes that happened here this week any more senseless than those that happened during the Cultural Revolution in China? if there is a similar failure of elites in China, are they so sure they won't turn back to communism? If the economy of China collapsed for two decades today would China remain capitalist and where would Hong Kong be? If those things happened, are you so sure the senselessness in China/HK would not be EVEN WORST? Just because the scenario are highly unlikely, does not give anyone any entitlement.

Put it in the right context and then make a judgement that you have a right to. Be careful of entitlement whether its someone with a gun or even if its just expressing it.